Late last year, Walmart severed what was to be a five-year partnership with Bossa Nova Robotics. Less than a year into the alliance, Walmart said human resources were just as capable and efficient as their robotic counterparts when it came to optimizing the stocking of shelves in its stores.
In that announcement, Walmart said it would continue experimenting with robots within its stores in order to keep up with the e-commerce demand it had been experiencing throughout the pandemic.
While the company has not said whether it has found a robotics solution to make in-store stocking more efficient, Walmart did announce Tuesday it plans to deploy robotic automation systems in 25 of its distribution centers.
Walmart said it will digitize its warehouses with its new robotics and automation partner, Symbotic, to improve throughput and on-demand requests from its customers.
“There is no greater validation of our efforts to use technology to reimagine the warehouse and supply chain than our work with Walmart,” said Symbotic CEO Rick Cohen of the trials with the retail giant that began in 2017.
“We set out more than 15 years ago to dramatically improve America’s legacy warehouses and supply chain to provide better and faster service to American consumers with new career opportunities for workers. Working with customers like Walmart has enabled us to develop this total solution and with this trust we are now positioned to develop Symbotic-powered warehouses around the country for years to come,” Cohen said.
Incoming pallets are broken down into small groups of cases to be distributed within the warehouse. These cases are then picked up by fully autonomous Symbots and moved to the proper storage structure based on size and density.
Once the DC is notified of orders, the robotic company’s system evaluates the best task and routing guide for the Symbots to retrieve those orders. They then are moved to an outbound cell to be stacked, wrapped and labeled appropriately on the pallet to be taken to local Walmart stores.
The robots reportedly are processing 1,700 inbound cases and 1,350 outbound cases per hour.
While the 25 distribution centers will take several years to deploy Symotic’s automation, Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations at Walmart U.S., stressed the importance of investing in this technology to remain competitive in the retail industry.
“The digital transformation happening today, alongside evolving customer habits, is reshaping the retail industry,” he said. “To serve customers now, and in the future, our business must provide the right tools and training to our associates so they can deliver the items our customers want, when they want them, with unmatched convenience. We’re investing in our supply chain at an unprecedented scale in order to optimize that process end-to-end.”